Don’t be that person. You know, the one with the duck face. The one posting blue food. Or unedited photos with instagram filters. Even if you are doing it all just for the heck of it, wouldn’t you want to get in touch with people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say and show? Wouldn’t you want to look at your feed and think ‘goddamn’? You are a superstar, show it! And who knows, your passion might turn into a full blown career as it did with me. So, let’s not waste any more time on the prelude of should and shouldn’ts and look at what you OUGHT to do. So let’s polish up your instagram.
Establish a Target Group
Like with other platforms one of the first steps should be to get connected with those people you know. Now, it depends on what your goal is. If you want to engage with others purely on the basis of shared interest (which is the whole point) or grow like a magic beanstalk to your first Ks, you should already at this point consider who will be your target group. You should never just blindly add people as this will only water down what you stand for and confuse those you target.
Decide on Your Content Delivery
Decide on what you want to deliver, set a focus, find a niche and type of content and connect with people in this field. You can add your friends for support but look into the whole industry! Follow influencers, look at their followers. Look at similar content and find patterns.
Get an Inspiration Board
And no, I’m not talking pinterest (which is an option, too). Scour through the web to find amazing instagrammers and photographers who made the platform their own. Be inspired by them, follow them and if you like their galleries especially and want to learn from them, enable the notification feature through your phone app. This way, you will always get updates from them and never miss a beat.
Speaking of inspiration this is exactly what I mean, inspiration is not the same as being a copy-cat. Don’t have one of those curated galleries that compile the most awe-inspiring travel pics of beach resorts, tiny people on big mountains and sunsets that only photoshop can create. Be original! Be you! You have your own style and way to look at things and this you should utilize. Sure, you can also make it a platform for other people to share their work but remember to keep it fresh and unique.
“I love it when photos convey emotions, such as can be seen in one of my favourite accounts on isntagram, that of @hannibuhlick. I think it’s fantastic that everyone on instagram can share their experiences globally and do it the way they want to.” – Nancy from @thetravelcrumb
Have a Consistent Style
This might require some experimenting at first. Unless you are already confident and set in your photographer and editing skills, you can try and see what suits you. Again, look at what others are doing and see if you like it. Lots of whites and faded colours, eye-catching saturation with blue skies or a certain composition. Don’t be too strict and do keep things interesting through variation. Try the golden rule, try placing the main focus, such as a person, on the left or right lower point of the grid (use the grid when you take photos!) and shift the line of the horizon.
Pick Your Themes
You want to spread a clear message. What do you stand for? Make it obvious through your selection. Don’t post photos of your cats when you are a food blogger. Don’t sneak your family and party pics in there if you want to be professional. Don’t use a comical font when the photos are solemn and purist. Let it make sense. Do you want to use quotes or not? Do you want to feature others? Do you focus on one thing or a range? Pick and choose and stick with what works. Every picture shapes your image and keeping it clear and focused is called smart branding.
Ensure High Quality Without a Compromise
If you are not a 100% certain, don’t post. Wait for a day or two and see how you feel about it. Make sure that each photo is great and not just good. After all, your instagram is your own little gallery and comes as a package. One bad photo could ruin the whole presentation, such as a frame can ruin a perfect masterpiece in a physical gallery. Never post blurry images, have too dark or too light images, etc. The best results are achieved if you use a real (and preferably DSLR) camera and then upload them through your phone. Make sure you do some editing as well to bring out the best in your captures.
I personally don’t like frames but have seen accounts with a consistent broad white border and a colour scheme to match, making it look stunning. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Don’t just use a frame once, use not all the time and best to avoid black or irregular frames. Frames should be considered with caution. As should be forcing the original dimensions. If you choose to do this, I recommend opting for just horizontal as it can look very disorderly otherwise. A creative twist on frames I found in the gallery of @worldwore. In a meta-fashion she kept the square but put a polaroid over it, creating two different frames for the picture.
“Before uploading a post, think about how it will look next to the previous images in your grid. Create an overall aesthetic that appeals to you or that fits the brand you are promoting.” – Lara from @LoveWalkEatSee
The original insta filters have received fresh additions recently but are still sub-par to many free apps that are out there. I personally recommend rookie and vsco cam. Think of it like this, of your photos look the same as everyone else’s there is nothing artsy and eye-catching about them. This is what you should strive for. A little photoshopping never hurts, either. I hope you are not tired of this yet, but do remain consistent here as well. Your filters should never show too much but make your photos look like a balanced collection, conveying a certain mood and style.
Arrange and Plan
Don’t just post your pics in random order. Tell a story, develop a plot or just arrange it according to looks. The first thing people might see of you is the gallery as a whole. So don’t lonely make sure each picture rocks but that it makes up a well harmonizing symphony! Sorry for the bad cliché, but your gallery is like an actual gallery and this means after choosing great pieces of art, packaging them in the right frame you need to present and group them well.
Timing is Everything
Now we have collected a great set of pics you want to share, but don’t fire them out rightaway. Think about your audience first. Where might they tune in from? What time of the day would they most likely check their instagram? When is the engagement level highest? Do some research for your country but don’t forget that your community is unique and to find out how they roll, you have to experiment first. A great way to check the best times of when they’re active, is through iconosphere. It’s completely free and the best tool for monitoring instagram activity.
Be an Analyst
Now that you have a great platform that present numbers and growth rates all in a nice package, why not explore it further and check out all the insights iconosquare has to offer? Apart from best times to post, you can see how people get double tapping, talk about you and even how far your reach is, namely who else than your followers sees your work. Check for popular hashtags and detect a pattern in what type of content your audience prefers. Make it easy for them to ‘like’ you. But always remember to stay true to yourself. You should love what you do first and foremost.
“Stay away from generic hashtags that have a lot of spam around them and find the ones in your field that are valuable and have good community around them. To get started, follow the accounts that most inspire you and see what hashtags they use.” – Lara from @LoveWalkEatSee
Once you get started, you might be the Picasso of square photo sharing but remember even he was ignored in the beginning. You have to get yourself out there and share the word about your epic existence. How? Conversation. Engagement. This is all a two-way process, so get clicking on other people’s accounts, comment and start conversations. Keep away from just complimenting along the lines of ‘beautiful!’, ‘stunning’ etc. Don’t be lazy! Ask questions, engage in some small talk. These are all real people, get your interpersonal skills working.
If you want to have an idea of how active your followers are and whether you are popular or not, I highly recommend using the free service of iconosquare that shows you your engagement statistics and best times for posting. But the rule of thumb is to multiply your followers by 0.037 and then you see the standard engagement per post ratio. If you are above that, congratulations!
Now that you have got some conversations going, why not get your new insta friends talking among each other? Recommend other pics and galleries they might enjoy, ask them questions, make challenges and develop your own hashtag for yourself and your fans to use. Like a secret fanclub code, so to say. And why not even make room for a weekly feature of the best fan pics? It might take some time for it to catch on, so mention it everywhere you can. Put it in your bio, ask your most engaged audience if they like to be featured and remind them to regram when you do.
Did you know that you can share your instagram picture on other channels as well? It is a great feature but should be used with caution. First, don’t share the same content on all your platforms. It will infinitely bore your audience and won’t give credit to each platform being unique and demanding a tailored content. You can, of course, occasionally. Second, adapt the text. Twitter doesn’t like long texts and will cut it even shorter when a picture or picture link is attached. For tumblr, you should know that the inclusion of hashtags won’t work.
It should go without saying but never ever copy and regram someone’s photo without giving credit to them. Also, ask first as this is the polite (and legal) thing to do. Usually people are really flattered and happy to be shared. This is a social community. And don’t tag people in mean pictures. If you are more grown up and using instagram for commercial purposes and got sponsored to promote a product in a photo, make sure to tag it appropriately, e.g. with #ad.
You can’t really control the explore and search area in instagram but what you can do is to do your best to appear at the right places here. It is a much improved tool to reach those people that are your ideal target group – they come looking for you! So make sure you always set the location and use the right hashtags. Also make sure you refer to current trends where possible so as to pop up in the feed as instagram tries to be more realt-time and relevant as twitter used to be.
One Last Thing
Maybe you have heard about the big instagram art incident a few months back where an infamous “artist” had taken and sold pictures he had found on instagram. Since these pictures are in the public domain, it happens more often than not that people steal your photos. But what is even worse, in my opinion, is that instagram has given itself rights over your pictures for their own use without needing your permissions. It is part of the usage agreement. And guess who has bought instagram. Yes, facebook also owns your photos. You should know that before you use instagram.
As instagram still doesn’t allow to have another app or software schedule and post pictures for you, the posting you still have to do yourself. Most apps just let you schedule and remind you to click post. But you don’t even need to bother with them (especially if you’re running out of space on your phone) if you know this little trick. Whenever you’re phone can’t connect to the internet but you are sending off a picture to your gallery, it will save it in your home screen as a ‘failed upload’.
I know this was a lot of input now, but I hope you can make the best of it. Let me know if you have any questions.